Song of Songs and the Single
I'm fairly sure that a few single folks reading this blog over the last two days have wondered what they are going to get out of a series on human love?
So my task in today’s blog is to begin to draw out lessons single folks can pick out from Songs. I could write a lot on this but for your sake (!) I've limited my observations to the six below. My hope is that these thoughts encourage you initially and inspire you subsequently. By inspire I mean cause you to consider how other passages in Songs have principles to help you guard your heart and direct your walk. There are so many principles in this book of wisdom that if we'd allow our hearts to ponder and our minds to wonder we'd be amazed how rich is the wisdom in this book. Remember it was written to single people too!
So, here goes...
First, don't allow a waiting heart to become a wandering heart (2:7; 3:5).
The context for Songs that I highlighted yesterday was exhortatory and cautionary. It warned the single to consider carefully their mate and to prioritize family values over attraction and passion. These encouraging and challenging words still apply. It was easy for single people back then, and it is easy for single people today, to allow their waiting heart to become a wandering heart. When that happens we can easily prioritize human love of any kind over the human love that God esteems. The original context of the book warned, "Let's not go there - ever." So, the first lesson for the single is the same lesson: don't go there, ever! Guard your heart for from it flows the joy of life (Prov. 4:23).
Second, don't forget that divine love is the background to human love, not the other way round.
It is common at weddings to use the example of human love as a pointer to the divine. Of course that's true. In Ephesians 5, however, Paul goes the opposite direction. He uses divine love as an example of how love is expressed to another person. Paul uses the idea within the context of marriage. That same principle is also used by John in his first letter:
In the very next verse John challenges us to love the same way (v11). He repeats the idea in v19 again:
John proceeds to set the expression of love in the context of a brother and sister context meaning, our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Now, we don't love because our love atones for sin but because we've experienced the joy and liberating power of divine love itself. So in the New Testament the love that is esteemed is a love the lays itself down, not just in the context of marriage but in the context of life with others. Love is both expressed and experienced in life with others not just in marriage.
My point is this: divine love inspires both the expression and experience of human love in fulfilling, satisfying, enriching ways outside of a marriage relationship.
Yes, a single person living according to the guidelines of Scripture ‘misses’ one expression of human love. But 1st John teaches us that there is more to human love than sex. The church has to aim for the expression and the experience of human love outside of marriage relationships too. We can not make a god of marriage. The experience of human love in deeply meaningful relationships with others is fulfilling and enriching in soul-satisfying ways. If the church doesn't encourage this kind of love we fail all people, married and single. As we journey through this series please remember that truth.
Third, don't allow your singleness to cast a doubt on your 'loved-ness' (1:6).
In the Song the woman doubts her beauty because of her darkened skin. This is not a racial reference but a response driven by an economic reality that drove her to work in the fields. She's outside a lot. She's someone whose skin would have been better preserved with protection from the scorching sun. Her darkened skin is a blemish that makes her feel unattractive. So, here's a woman whose circumstances cause her to doubt her loved-ness. The story proves that she was wrong. The fact is, anyone who allows circumstance to cast a doubt on their loved-ness is wrong. This applies for the single state as much as anything else. Songs teaches us not to go there. My hunch is that the parts of our story yet to be written will reveal how loved we are; whether we feel like it or not. Why not embrace the truth of your 'loved-ness' now? The difference that midset change could make to your life is bigger than you can possibly imagine.
Fourth, don't allow your dream of the ideal to overshadow the pain of the real (5:6).
Much of Songs presents human love in an idyllic way that masks the pain, emotional distance and frustration many couples experience. It's not just single people who may dread this series but couples who've reached the real and long passed the ideal! Songs captures the end of the honeymoon period towards the finale of the book.
I write that to say this: the Bible encourages us to count our blessings. To the single folks reading this I remind you that singleness protects you from the harsher realities of human love. That seems trite but I've little doubt that when we get to this part of the text some single folks might well utter a prayer of thanksgiving (maybe even two!!). The pain that often accompanies human love is a hard road to walk. Married couples often feel stuck when the real has set in. They wonder if the love they shared at first will ever return. They often live without hope. As hard as it may be at times to be single, thank God for what He's saved you from. Putting an emotion to that gain can be an important tool for dealing with the pain of singleness.
Fifth, your ultimate sealing is with the Holy Spirit, not with a life-mate (8:6).
The verse cited speaks of the glue of human love that binds two people together. The imagery is so powerful that people use it to refer to the sealing of the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians 4:30 Paul tells us that we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption. He uses the idea again in 1 Corinthians 1:22 to say that God has set his seal of ownership upon us, 'guaranteeing what is to come.' The only seal that is a cast iron guarantee of hope and life is the seal of ownership that comes from being united with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. Too many people seek the 'one' to complete them when in reality they should be looking for the 'two' to complement them! I'm not talking polyamorous relationships here but prioritized relationships. God is our one. We aren't to go looking for the one to complete us but asking God whether there is a person to hike the mountains with us. In the tough moments allow this truth to run through your mind. You are His treasured possession and He is your seal. He is your one and you are His! If you are tempted to look for the one, change your approach a little and thank God that He's your one.
Sixth, every Christian should be able to state God's view on human love.
If none of the five observations above hit home, this one surely must. Every Christian - whether single or married - should be able to share the biblical view of human love. If nothing else happens in the heart, mind and soul of a single person through this journey through Songs, being able to share God's heart for human love has the potential to be life-transforming for the people God will bring into all our lives. Songs is a book of wisdom. And the Lord surely knows how much people in this world need to hear a word of re-direction, encouragement, hope and life in this area. At very least our Naked and Unashamed series will provide the background for some Spirit-directed encounters where inspirational conversations centered on grace and mercy not condemnation and shame become the center-piece of a life-transforming work.
So, yet another short blog has turned into a thesis... I'm praying that I've stirred the idea enough to give every single person who will join us for this series a few hooks upon which they can hang their thoughts and direct their hearts.
I'm convinced that as each week goes by, the Holy Spirit will speak an encouraging and challenging word to us all - marital status excluded!
Can't wait for the weekend...